The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed that it has not placed any restriction on the private sale of Covid vaccinations, meaning that manufacturers could agree deals with pharmacies to supply them.
Community pharmacy leaders have said that they would welcome the opportunity to provide private Covid vaccinations for those that want them.
But the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) emphasised that the NHS flu and Covid vaccination programmes should be a priority after a ‘shaky start’ to this year’s provision.
Last week The Times reported that Covid vaccinations could soon be available privately.
The UKHSA confirmed to The Pharmacist that this did not represent a change in policy and that it was not preventing manufacturers from making Covid-19 vaccinations available privately.
While the details of the contracts between the UK government and vaccine manufacturers are commercially sensitive, the UKHSA said that this had been made clear to manufacturers in conversations with them over time since the development of the vaccines.
Philippa Harvey, director of the Covid Vaccine Unit at UKHSA, said: ‘The Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to target those at higher risk of serious illness in line with JCVI advice, as those groups are most likely to benefit from booster vaccination at this time.
‘The Covid-19 vaccine is not currently available to buy privately in the UK but there is no blanket restriction on private sales of licensed vaccines. UKHSA will continue to work with manufacturers to ensure there is sufficient vaccine supply available to the NHS programme.’
A spokesperson for Pfizer said that the manufacturer's priority was to support the government's prioritisation of the highest risk populations, so currently only supplied its vaccine through the NHS programme.
But they said that Pfizer remain open to exploring alternative supply routes 'where there is a public health need'.
And Darius Hughes, UK General Manger for Moderna, said that the manufacturer has a contract with the UK government to supply COVID-19 vaccines for 2023-2024 and will meet all orders for the recommended NHS groups.
He added that Moderna will 'we remain open to exploring the possibility and viability of providing COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare providers for private sales.'
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Pharmacist that she could not see any reason why Covid vaccination could not be provided the same way as flu, privately for those who are not eligible to get it on the NHS.
‘It is about offering the public the choice to get vaccinated if they wish to do so,’ she said.
And Nick Kaye, chair of the NPA, said that an option for people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 privately ‘could make sense for many people who want to protect themselves and their families against infection but are ineligible for an NHS jab’, as many currently do for flu vaccinations.
He added that some employers might see it as a worthwhile investment to pay for protecting their workforce from illness.
He added that community pharmacies could be involved in the provision of private Covid vaccinations.
‘Pharmacies played a major role in the roll out of the NHS Covid vaccination programme, protecting well over 30 million people and saving lives. Given our proven track record, it’s likely that pharmacies would also be a popular choice for private provision too,’ Mr Kaye said.
But he said that ‘any private developments must not distract from successful implementation of the free of charge NHS service to vulnerable people, who must always take priority’.
He added: ‘At the moment we want to focus on this season’s NHS programme for both flu and Covid. This has got off to a shaky start because NHS England messed about with the flu scheme’s start date and has narrowed eligibility criteria including age limits. Bringing pharmacies and GPs on board for the NHS vaccination schemes should be the government’s immediate priority.’
The start date of the NHS flu vaccination service was recently changed to October, in line with the Covid vaccination programme, despite community pharmacies having planned for the usual September flu vaccination start date.